TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – November is Manatee Awareness Month and the Save the Manatee Club is calling attention to the gentle giants and how humans can keep them safe.
The West Indian manatee resides in Florida and is listed as a threatened species, reclassified from endangered in May 2017 under the Endangered Species Act.
Manatee Awareness Month was first declared in 1979 by Bob Graham, former Florida governor and Save the Manatee Club (SMC) co-founder. SMC was founded in 1981 by Graham and singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.
According to SMC, November is the perfect month to celebrate manatees, as the semi-migratory aquatic mammals begin returning to warm water springs and refuges.
Though large, manatees do not have the fat layers that other marine mammals do to keep warm, so they cannot survive prolonged exposure to cold water. When temperatures fall below 68 degrees, they move to warmer water, such as Florida’s natural springs or power plants with warm, clean water discharge.
Throughout Manatee Awareness Month, SMC will be sharing manatee facts, videos, quizzes and opportunities for action on its website.
SMC will also host a free webinar on Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. to share how researchers identify and count manatees at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, and why the spring is an important manatee refuge and sanctuary.
SMC also offers free materials to boaters, paddlers and waterfront property owners, including aluminum “slow please” signs, a waterproof decal with information on how to report distressed manatees and a “Manatees Below” banner.
ZooTampa will also be celebrating Manatee Awareness month, starting with a Facebook Live event on Tuesday. Manatee lovers can check out the zoo’s Facebook page for manatee updates throughout the month, especially on “Manatee Mondays.”
An Unusual Mortality Event of manatees is still ongoing in Florida, due in part to the lack of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports as of October, there are currently 82 manatees in rehabilitation at 13 critical care or rehabilitation/holding facilities. There are 72 manatees in Florida, including 17 at ZooTampa, two in Georgia, six in Ohio and one in Puerto Rico.
All but 15 of these manatees are considered releasable.
According to the FWC, 719 manatees have died in the state as of Oct. 21, compared to 982 manatees at this time last year.
Anyone who sees a sick, injured, orphaned or dead manatee should call FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 1-888-404-3922 or #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone.